Can using a pedometer can promote a physically active lifestyle?

A physically active lifestyle is one where physical activity is done throughout the day. Any activity that gets a person up and moving is part of an active lifestyle. Physical activity includes exercises such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, or lifting weights. It also includes playing sports. It is recommended that every adult accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity every week, or 30 minutes most days in a week.  Physical activity is different from other kinds of activity, such as reading a book, playing a game, or typing on the computer. This kind of activity is called sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle means you sit or do not move much during the day. According to the WHO, 60 to 85% of people in the world, from both developed and developing countries lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of children are also insufficiently active, with serious implications for their future health. Physical inactivity can have serious implications for people’s health, and approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, prompting the WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world.

 Health benefits of a physically active lifestyle

There is no gainsaying that there are numerous health benefits of physical activity. This fact has been collaborated by several researches and there is little or no evidence that physical activity has any bad effect for the health. The health benefits of physical activities are:

  • Reduced short-term feelings of anxiety for adults. Regular physical activity can help keep the thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as one ages. It can also reduce the risk of depression and anxiety and help in better sleep.
  • Reduced blood pressure.
  • Provides important health benefits for chronic disease prevention.
  • Reduces the risks of developing dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) and reduces risk of depression
  • Lowers risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
  • Lowers risk of eight cancers: bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
  • Helps in weight loss and reduces risk of weight gain
  • Improves bone health
  • Helps in Balance and Coordination, and reduces risks of falls
  • Physical activity may also help boost immune function

Children also benefit from physical activity. The health benefits of physical activity in children are:

  • Improved attention and memory
  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Building of strong muscles and endurance
  • Positive effect on the heart and lung Health, which improves blood pressure and aerobic fitness
  • Helps in maintenance of normal blood sugar levels
  • Reduces risk of several chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and obesity
  • Strengthens the bones
  • Helps regulate body weight and reduce body fat

Can using a pedometer promote a physically active lifestyle?

Pedometers or step-counter, is a device, usually portable and electronic or electromechanical, that counts each step a person takes by detecting the motion of the person’s hands or hips.  It is a type of wearable technology which is becoming a popular way to encourage people with cardiovascular or metabolic conditions to become more active. 

There have been several studies on the effectiveness of pedometer driven intervention in increasing physical activities of individuals.

A study among people with musculoskeletal disorders like low back pain, osteoporosis, hip, and knee osteoarthritis reported that walking based interventions helped them to assume a physically active role in their recovery. Another research also demonstrated the effect of pedometer-driven walking on relieving musculoskeletal symptoms (for both function and pain) in chronic low back pain among adults aged 18 or over.

A more comprehensive research reported that interventions including monitoring devices like pedometers resulted in a small to medium increase in physical activity compared with usual care or other interventions among people in need of increased physical activity.

Pedometer-based interventions that included face-to-face consultations with a healthcare professional also showed the largest improvement in physical activity levels.  This means that the effectiveness of pedometers in increasing physical activity can even be more if there is combined support mostly by healthcare professionals.

The facts conclude that the use of pedometers are effective to make one physically active.

How do we interpret pedometer steps and physical activity level?

According to guidelines produced after several researches on the number of steps and their equivalence to physical activity, the following consensus was arrived at:

  • Sedentary is equal to less than 5,000 steps per day
  • Low active is equal to 5,000 to 7,499 steps per day
  • Somewhat active is the same as 7,500 to 9,999 steps per day
  • Active is equal to more than 10,000 steps per day and
  • Highly active is equal to more than 12,500 per day

Types of pedometer and how to use one.

There are two types of pedometers, spring-levered and piezoelectric. The Spring-levered pedometers use a spring-suspended horizontal lever arm that moves up and down in response to the movement (vertical accelerations) of the hips as a person walks or runs.

The Piezoelectric is a material that generates an electric charge when it is mechanically deformed. Movement like walking generates a voltage proportional to the movement and the voltage oscillations are used to record steps.

 Pedometers work with dancing, climbing stairs, walking outdoors or on a treadmill, but they don’t work if a person is not moving in a way that the hips are relatively accelerating like in biking, skiing, rowing or swimming.

There are several styles of pedometers. The most common style of pedometer is the type that is attached to either the waistband or belt. Another style has a clip attached, giving the opportunity to either attach it to the waistband or drop it in the purse or briefcase. Places like the bra strap or shoe are not choice areas to clip a pedometer as the reading may not be accurate. Pedometers that are worm on the wrist as wristbands which can also double as watches are also fairly common.

 How accurate is a pedometer to measure physical activity?

Pedometers tend to count steps more accurately at speeds greater than 3 miles per hour (mph) than at slower speeds. Accuracy can exceed 96% when speeds exceed 3 mph, whereas the accuracy drops to between 74% and 91% at speeds from 2 mph to 3 mph, and it drops even further to between 60% and 71% at speeds below 2 mph. this is because pedometers are not accurate in measuring movements which involve shuffling of the feet.

So if you don’t have a pedometer and are considering one, don’t waste more time, get one, wear it, and start walking!